Is Ethics an Alien word to the engineering profession?
“The decisions and actions of engineers have a profound impact on the world we live in, and society at large” [The Royal Academy of Engineering] and are generally responsible for the way life is on earth due to their key part in discovering innovative technologies throughout the past. However in recent years the engineering profession has come under scrutiny with regards to its ethical stance. Ethics is certainly not an alien word in the United States of America, with engineers being offered plenty of support and guidance to contend with the ethological issues that can occur. However the “ethical dimension of engineering has been prominent in the mainstream media for many years, with engineering triumphs as well as disasters being greeted by considerable public attention to the impact of modern engineering on wider society” (Leeds University 2009). This attention is set to increase even further as engineers around the world attempt to tackle global challenges such as climate change and the depletion of traditional energy sources. Therefore with engineers playing a “pivotal role in many of the most emotive and contentious issues in contemporary society” (Leeds University 2009), including ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. there is call for a definite understanding of ethics within the engineering profession, so it will not remain an “alien word”. But what is mean by ethics in the engineering world?
A statement from the NSPE [WHO?] states:
“Engineering is an important and learned profession. As members of the profession, engineers are expected to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Engineering has a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all people. Accordingly, the services provided by engineers, require honesty, impartiality, fairness and equity, and must be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety and welfare. Engineers must perform under a standard of professional behaviour that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct”. The statement is based on the impact that engineering has on our quality of life and talks about how engineers should behave to adhere to the high principles of ethical conduct. It agrees with Martin and Schinizinger’ definition of engineering ethics: “the study of moral issues and decisions confronting individuals and organizations involved in engineering and the study of related questions about moral conduct, character, ideals and relationships of peoples and organizations involved in technological development”. It brings in the factor that there are ethics on different levels. Wulf (2004) writes that there are micro ethical issues associated with the behaviour of the individual engineers but also macro ethical issues which must be addressed by the engineering profession as a whole. William F. May talks about the seriousness of responsibility that comes with professional expertise. He notices that the engineering profession is made up of thousands of individual engineers, all with different knowledgeable backgrounds, resulting in a wide range of different decisions. He states “The professional had better be virtuous. Few may be in a position to discredit him. The knowledge explosion is also an ignorance explosion; if knowledge is power, then ignorance is powerless”. He warns that very often the engineer is considered to be the “brains behind the projects”, with very few on the same level of understanding to see whether he is working in the correct manor. This links us to how an engineer should behave; as many theorists, including Charles E Harris, call it “the good engineer”. With engineers having little direction for conduct, they are often allowed a considerable amount of freedom in how he or she promotes public welfare. Mike Martin (2002) notes that there is nowhere to say whether an engineer should devote their time to a non-innovative project; or to some special...
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